It's been tumultuous and tense few weeks in Canada, to say the least.
Earlier this month, six Muslim men praying in a mosque were murdered in cold blood by a young man who has been described as being radicalized by far-right nationalist leaders. Now, counterintuitively, an anti anti-Islamophobia movement is gaining strength in Canada.
At the centre of the most current controversy stands Iqra Khalid, the Liberal member of parliament for Mississauga-Erin Mills. In December, Khalid tabled motion M103 which is entitled "Systemic racism and religious discrimination." Over the last few weeks, the motion was seized upon by the far and alt-right who spread conspiracy theories about it in rapid fashion—some of which accused Khalid of attempting to make Canada a Sharia compliant state.
In reality, the motion asks the government to "condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination" and asks for the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage to conduct a study for a "whole-of-government approach" for the problem of systematic racism and religious discrimination, including Islamophobia.
In response to the motion, the Rebel, Canada's B-rate Breitbart, held an "Emergency Rally for Free Speech" which, unsurprisingly, was full of dumb, rambling incoherent statements, self-victimization and more racist dog whistles than David Duke's local dog park. Four federal Conservative leadership candidates decided that it would be a good use of their time to speak at this event.
M103 was debated upon in parliament, but the vote will be put off until early April. During the debate Khalid read some of the death threats and messages she's received.
VICE reached out to Khalid to talk about the goal of M103, conspiracy theories, creeping Sharia, and dealing with death threats.
You can see the interview in it's entirety below.
VICE: Why did you bring forward M103 and what is its purpose?
Khalid: Being the person that I am and look like, I realized that Canada is a diverse country and our diversity is really our strength and we need to keep building on that so, you know, I saw the e-petition through MP Frank Baylis that received 70,000 signatures almost calling on the government to act on issues like Islamophobia. So I brought forward a motion that was broader in scope that called on our government to study all issues revolving around systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia here in Canada.
I tabled it in December and never in my wildest imagination did I think that Quebec would happen which just makes it all that much more relevant. So, I'm really looking forward to this study being initiated.
There was a very similar motion passed in October with unanimous consent. Why do you think there has been such a turn around for some politicians and their supporters on this notion?
I really don't know. I mean the definition of Islamophobia, in the house at least, there has been nothing added to it, nothing taken away since the motion was passed unanimously condemning Islamophobia.
I understand that the party in opposition is having divisiveness within their own leadership race at this point but I think that we really need shift and to keep out focus on the very, very important issue of systemic racism and religious discrimination here in Canada.
The thing about the whole discussion is that, agree or disagree, there are cognizant criticisms to be made about free speech in Canada but instead of making those arguments the majority of dissenters are focusing upon what can easily be described as conspiracy theories.
Did the way the criticisms of the motion take shape surprise you?
I was surprised, I thought that, especially in respect to the opposition, I would think that everyone would know the difference between a bill and a motion. I mean a motion is not legislation, it's not law. [It's] merely asking, very nicely, for the government to ask the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage to study this issue.
A major part of the criticism has been the notion that, in the end, the study will bring about stringent hate speech laws outlawing any form of Islamophobia. Is there any chance, in the end, that this could wind up curtailing freedom of speech?
Like I said this is a motion, not legislation, not law at all and I would be the first person to oppose anything that goes against our charter of rights and freedoms. This motion is really about bringing marginalized communities to the table and hearing what they have to say, this is really about initiating dialogue, initiating conversation—a very important conversation about race and discrimination in Canada.
People are using M103 to kind of push anti anti-Islamophobia, to an extent, today there was an anti-M103 rally outside of a mosque in Toronto where people shouted "ban Islam."
As the person who brought M103 forward, what does it feel like to see that happen based around this motion?
I think that it, again, really highlights the fact that there is Islamophobia in Canada and that the almost 70,000 people that signed that e-petition, to begin with, which brought all of this upon us were right that this is an issue that we need to tackle head on to be proactive.
I've felt it to. I felt it through the hate messages I've received and the threats. It just strengthens my resolve, I really want to make sure that we're making sure we're building bridges among Canadian communities instead of dividing them.
So, for the last week, you've kind of lived as enemy number one of the far and alt-right in Canada. For you personally, how bad has the backlash gotten?
I was looking at our inbox this morning so we have about 65,000 emails that we haven't gone through. I mean, I appreciate that this has highlighted the extent of the problem and I was very, very glad that we had all of yesterday to debate this issue in the house and to really shed light on a very, very important problem that about a million of us Canadians are facing.
This is not just about the Muslim community, right? Racism is really interconnected and we all face it in some ways.
The backlash that you have received, you've received death threats which you read some out yesterday. People are calling you names that I'm not going to repeat, there has been personal attacks, attacks on you as a politician. How on a personal level are you dealing with that?
I have a great caucus, I have a great staff, an amazing family and we've been dealing with all of this together. Nothing is in a vacuum, everything affects everybody here in Canada. The support that I've received from the Prime Minister personally, from Minster Mélanie Joly and all of caucus, it's kind of overwhelming.
I can definitely say it overshadows the hate.
Can you describe the hate?
It was just appalling, being called a draper head, being told that people are going to burn down mosques, people calling me a terrorist Muslim, that they would watch somebody shoot me and would film me lying on the ground and laugh.
It really shed light on the issue, it really shed light on the extent of systemic racism and religious discrimination in Canada, including Islamophobia here in Canada. But the messages of support were overwhelming and they really made me understand how many people are actually facing it. I had fourth generation Canadians emailing me and saying "this is the right thing to do, thank you for doing it." Those messages meant a lot more to me than the outright hate and threats we've received.
Any chance of you backing down?
No. Hell no! Whoops, sorry.
Nah, it's all good, this is VICE.
So, I suppose I have to ask, is this all part of a secret Islamic plot to bring Sharia law to Canada? I would like you to tell the truth to me!
No sir. I would be the first person to oppose such a thing. I am very much in love with our multicultural, secular society here in Canada and I will do everything I can to protect it.
Lead photo via Facebook.
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